tv History Bookshelf Christina Vella George Washington Carver A Life CSPAN January 20, 2019 8:00am-8:30am EST
biographer christina talked about george washington carver. this was reported at the 2015 louisiana book festival. it's about 25 minutes. >> good morning. thank you for coming out. it is my privilege to introduce to you christina vella. she has taught history for many years and is a visiting professor. she lectured widely on historical empire reppo poppet and has been a consultant for the u.s. state department.
her first book published by lsu press was chosen as one of the best books of the year by the new york times book review, which praised her spectacular job of excavating the historical record. it also received a coveted review from publishers weekly which called it a spellbinding narrative. her later writings have included other titles. lsu press is proud to be publisher of her most recent book. this research into the life and career of a remarkable scientist george washington carver is the first biography to fully examine his personal life and scientific achievements.
it is written in a highly accessible and engaging style. in this volume has already received wonderful notice in the press. a star review from the finder notebook list which says this is an extraordinary look at the life of a man and has garnered favorable notices for publishes weekly. a review that concludes, it is carver's genuine warmth that shines in this story as he never gets both white and black societies while producing side to the achievements that benefit all. lsu press is extremely proud to be publisher of this book, and i am proud to introduce its author to you today. please join me in welcoming dr. vella.na >> thank you. i don't know if i can live up to all of that. it occurs to me that if you are not an american and not old, you
might not know who george washington carver is you'd and that is kind of amazing, because in 1950, if you had asked any third greater, that kid would -- if you had asked any third -- any third grader, he could have told you all the things george washington carver did. them who is president of the united states, he may or may not have known. that is how famous he was. it was a deserved fame. what did he do exactly? he came to the south and discovered that there is abject poverty among the sharecroppers because they had in producing cotton on the same land all over again, and cotton leaches the soil. the same land was producing less and less cotton.
the south was in a miserable condition. the sharecroppers were starving come and he saw what they needed to do was to find some cash crop that would enrich the soil and at the same time they could sell. he did a lot of experiments and came up with something that was really wonderful for the soil. in a couple of seasons, it would make it productive, and that something was peanuts. peanuts and sweet potatoes were really really good for southern soil, but peanuts in those day was no more a cash crop than parsley. if you told people you have to plant peanuts, what am i going to do? i can't sell peanuts. so he set about trying to invent things, trying to make products that would make peanuts something that you could sell as a cash crop. and in the course of his researches he came up with over 2000 products made of peanuts,
and that wasn't all. he took all kinds of things that were useless, things that no one wanted, things were going to waste, like animal bones in farmers' yards, barnyard feathers, red clay in the hills of alabama. alabama was where he was located. swamp sludge, weeds, all source of things, dust. dust, can you imagine? all sorts of things, he came up with commercial products. by the time of his death, peanuts was the third biggest cash crop in alabama and georgia. he had actually succeeded in pulling these pitiful sharecroppers out of destitution and made a lot of them, at least, good farmers. so, of course, there were thousands, i mean, really thousands of little children's
books explaining this wonderful man who was a negro and yet had managed to become one of the foremost scientists of his age at a time when racism was more virulent than you or i can imagine. you had to live through it to understand how vicious and pervasive racism was at that time. it wasn't like a negro coming to the floor today. it was a completely remarkable, astonishing phenomenon. so, that was who he was and that's what he was so famous. well, all right, known you don't need to read the book, right? he didn't start out famous. he had a life that was as cursed with a drama as yours or mine or anybody's. how did he start out? well, to begin with he was a slave in missouri as a child.
he was born on a slave farm to a very kindly white people and when he was an infant, he was kidnapped. he was taken to arkansas by marauders. it is during the civil war when all of the authority has broken down. there is no police, no army in the area to keep order and to so gangs just come through and said they were confederates. they were just hoodlums. or we are unionists, and of course they are basically gangs of neighborhood teenagers. they kidnapped him and they brought him to arkansas with his mother. well, his mother got separated from him and she was never ever found, but his owner sent someone after him, traded him for a racehorse and brought him back. he raised him.
this kindly white man taught george carver, carver george as he was known then, to play the fiddle, because he couldn't teach him to read because he couldn't read himself. he was totally illiterate. when little carver is 10 years old, he desperately wants to go to school. the white school in the town where he lived in missouri wouldn't have him. so, with the carver's permission, he went 10 miles to a new freedmen's bureau school that was opening in missouri, and he went to school their. how does a 10-year old survived by himself? well, he goes to work for a family and he works for them during the day and works for three or four weeks, three or
four months until he saved enough money that he can go to school and by school close. he goes to school for three or four months until he runs out of money and that he goes back to work again. that is the way carver survived from the age of 10 until he finally finished high school when he was in his mid-20s. he was a drifter. he went to all of the up start towns in kansas and all around to try to find schools where he could work and try to find work. there was always work because there were always settlers. this was the settling of the west. when he graduates from high school in his mid- 20s, he got together all of his letters of recommendation, everything you do when you want to apply to college. he wanted so badly to have a college education. of course, a number of colleges turned him down without any excuse, but one that had advertised that it was a very open institution. we are open to everyone, we are open to all sorts of people. well, he gathered all the
information and he applied to this college. when he got there he walked, by the way, 25 miles to get there, when he gets to the college they take one look at him and his smiling black face and they say, we meant we were open for indians, not negros. so, he was turned away. he didn't have enough money to get back to where he came from, so he stayed in the town. he borrowed a washboard in a tub and started taking in laundry, which was his default way of supporting himself. laundry is very cheap to do. all you really need is soap and a wash of and you can wash people's clothing. so, he washed and ironed clothing and supported himself, and at one point he even went out and tried his luck at
homesteading. this was the time of the government that was giving people land if they would build a shack on it or build a house on it or build a sod house and farm it. so he gets his stake in a little land. that doesn't sound -- when i learned about this when i was in college, it didn't sound too interesting. ok, homesteading in the west, yeah, yeah. well, when you get these documents and you read exactly what they required of the people that were getting this land, the sod house had to be just so much. most of these sod houses were about the size i'm walking right now. they were the size of a big bathroom. you had to build a sod house in such a such a way and plant so many trees. then you see the inventory of what people had in these houses. you see the actual documents that they wrote enumerating their chairs and their wash
tubs, their beds, and the plants that they had in the windows of their little sod houses. by the way, if you want to build a sod house i know all about it. theoretically, i could build a sod house for you. but, it's so much fun to get your hands on these documents and see, this is the real history. this is what's really worth looking into history for. so, he tried building a sod house and it was all right for about three years and then he got lonely for classical music, for opera, books for discussions of great authors. now, how did this little kid learn about great authors? where did he hear classical music? he was hardly permitted to go in even a white church where he
would be able to hear music. how did he learn these things and how did he develop a taste for these things? i don't know. it's almost enough to make you religious to wonder how did someone like that conceive of such marvelous tastes. such high culture. so, he goes back and he tries again and he manages to get into an art school. he was a wonderful painter when he was a kid on the farm. of course, they didn't have paint, but he used to paint flowers and boil them and crush them and get paints out of them and then he would take tree stumps that were bare and clean and he would paint things on the tree stumps. that is how he developed his artistic ability. so he gets to this art school and he's ok for about three years and he's about to graduate and his teacher tells him, look, you have no future at all as a negro artist.
you are going to be a beggar. you have got to go into something where you can make a living. i want you to apply to iowa state college to the botany department and get a degree in agriculture. he said, they won't take me. he said, yeah, they will take you. my father is the head of the botany department. so he went to iowa state college and he worked his way through. he lived in a toolshed that he found on the edge of the campus, a toolshed whose previous tenants were only rats that had no plumbing, that had no water, of course, no electricity. had nothing. it was a bare toolshed. he moved into it and lived in it all the time that he was in college.
he worked as a janitor and took in laundry from the other students in order to keep himself in college. iowa state wasn't just any college. iowa state was the harvard of agricultural schools. well, agricultural schools, what are agricultural schools? listen, in those days it's hard for us to realize that america couldn't feed itself and we were importing food. so people were desperate for scientists who could make us self-sufficient in food. agricultural science today is what everyone at to get into and everyone wanted to know about. so, he goes into agricultural science and he goes to a school that produces three secretaries of agriculture, us secretaries of agriculture and a vice presidential candidate. in other words, he goes into a
school where all of these professors are going to become bigwigs in government and he gets to know them all, especially doneil henry a wallace, henry c wallace and james wilson. they love him. they think he is a genius. he begins to explore collecting plants, identifying plants, finding various uses for plants, and does all sorts of things with his knowledge and may give him the room to do it. they publish his articles. they praise him and encourage and they let him do serious research. they think that he has hung the moon. so, they give him a position there. he gets a masters degree. they give him a full-fledged faculty position.
he's a professor. well, everything's turning up roses for george washington carver. he has a niche in a white institution. he is doing important research. he is praised, valued and everyone adores him. i tell you, if you had read the thousands of letters of this man, you can understand why people adore him. he's funny. he's kind. he's sweet. he is positive. in he never has a critical word an to say about anyone or anything. will he is humble and he is so merry. he has a joke and something funny and something humorous like about practically everything. so, they love him to death, but do you know what happens? a man named booker t. washington who happens to be the foremost black man of his time passes
through iowa and wants an interview with george washington carver. he asks him to come to tuskegee institute, alabama, this nothing secondary school, really. i will it calls itself a dairy and college, but it's really like a vocational school in the hills of alabama and to will in the hills of alabama and to teach. help teach. carver falls under the spell of booker t. washington. now, booker t does not come off too well in my book. actually, he was probably one of the most unpleasant, ruthless, or and contemptible people i have met in history. will he did wonderful things for his race. i i don't begrudge him his
will obsequiousness to white people, because if you lived in that time, there was no other way. you had to do what he did. you had to sell yourself out. inyou had to sell yourself out. you had to sell yourself out. inyou had to sell yourself out. an that part of it i can very and you well excuse. what i can't excuse is the andwhat i can't excuse is the abominable treatment that he delves out to everyone who was personally connected with him, his teachers, his wives, his and you cohorts, anyone. will so, he has a very, very and fraught relationship with will fraught relationship with booker t. washington that in fact ends with a woman he was in love with throwing herself off the top of a building and killing herself. well, our time is a lot shorter. in her i am a lot more verbose than i mean to be, but i should tell you that if you think carver had one of these ideal lives, besides fighting and making booker t. washington and himself wretched for the 19 years they were together,
and finally booker t finishes and dies and carver's career is and allowed to take off. will when he is 60, and he is famous everywhere in the world, everyone knew his face, everyone you are everyone knew his face, everyone knew his name and he a was somehow exempted from all the racial hatred that all other blacks suffered. he fell head over heels in love with a 23-year old white man. you will that affair lasted for 10 years, and in the course of that carver was thought to have among his products come up with a cure for the after effects of your and polio. so he was also massaging people with his oil 12 hours a day. a you people who lined up in front of tuskegee,
begging him for help. i want to tell you before i close because this is very is important, that carver never for accepted a fee for lecturing an accepted a fee for lecturing and refused to take out patents. he gave away every product he and and developed. and i 500 products from barnyard and feathers, for heaven sakes. and thousands of products, he gave them away to corporations, saying i want them to be used. and in one i want people to develop them. i don't want a company to make money from them. i want them to go to people. himi want them to go to people. he became the free consultant, the unpaid consultant to those companies, so they could develop these products. thomas edison offered him over $100,000 a year to work for him and carver refused and stayed at in tuskegee at a salary of $1000 you and you a year and you because he said, what ever i do here will go down to my people. will everybody will know that and black people are capable of anything.
if i go into edison laboratories, they won't know and that. so, i have a whole lot more to tell you about carver, but i a won't to be able to. you will you i want to thank you so much for braving the wind and water and coming. law and you have been a great audience. keep george washington carver in mind. thank you so much. and he and i think there is the. questions,tions, any i would like to open the floor for maybe one question? >> say it a little louder, please. >> [inaudible] >> that is something i did not go into. booker was mesmerizing and nobody was more mesmerized than carver. i think that he had a father
complex. booker was like demanding father he could never satisfy. he always accepted his criticisms. he always believed the trash that booker would tell him. he would always try to please him and he could not separate from him. it was his weakness, really. thank god booker died in 1915 and carver lived until 1943, so he had long time to be able to develop his products. if booker t had been alive all of that time, we would probably would not even know who george washington carver was. yes? >> in the book, we see all the tremendous products he produced. discussed for a moment how they are his land was. -- how bare his -- was. >> he didn't even have a bunsen burner. when he would request something
like a grinder for rocks to pulverize them to see their components, a little nine-dollar measly grinder, they would refuse it. they counted the stamps he used and limited him to a number of postage stamps. it was in the lab that he made up from going to dump heaps and getting glass, broken glass and making different things out of it that he could use for test tubes. it was the most primitive lab that you can imagine. not even a grammar school lab was better than this one. is that it? that's good, because i'm always afraid someone is going to asked me a question i don't know the answer to. thank you again. [applause]. >> that was a fascinating presentation. you did a fabulous job of depicting how he represents the american dream. he embodied it. excellent. i know that you are interested in asking more questions.
you can see her at the barnes & noble book signing tent from 11:30 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. she will sign her book and thank you all for the presentation. i hope you enjoy the book festival. [indiscernible] announcer: monday, martin luther king jr. day, at 8 a.m. eastern, race relations in the u.s.. and armstrongmore williams live on c-span's
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perpetrators of violence. announcer: watch them this monday, martin luther king jr. day. 50 years ago on january 20, 1969, richard nixon took the oath of office to become the 37th president of the united states. sunday on railamerica, a cbs news broadcast anchored by walter cronkite of the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address. here's a preview. roger, if we make one a phrase, a hush of expectancy has fallen over these 15,000 to 20,000 persons gathered at the ,ront of the capitol building capitol hill in washington, and those distinguished guests to were at the inaugural stand itself. any moment now, the president in the last few minutes of his five
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historians >> next on american history tv historians michael neiberg and geoffrey wawro discuss how french and u.s. military strategies used towards the end of world war i were applied in world war ii. this talk was part of a three-day conference hosted by the national world war ii museum in new orleans. good morning, everyone. i do have the longest title in the museum. being the executive director for the study of war and democracy is a high calling. we think the museum will do great things in an area that has, until now not done too much and that is the higher education phase. i will be happy